I got back last night from a week in Portugal. It was our annual immediate family-only trip. Every year, Chiara, Alexander, Meika, my wife, and myself take a week alone somewhere to get reaquainted. It’s amazing what happens when we spend two hours having dinner rather than 2 minutes, and talk about world events rather than who’s going out tonight and what time they have to be home.
Life is so full of habits and distractions – rushing to do things that probably don’t really matter, or failing to see things because we think we already saw them – that almost anything that forces us out of our daily pattern can produce wonderful and unexpected results. We observed how different graffiti was in Portugal than in the U.S. (more often than not, it’s almost art or something actually better than most art), what our country looks like when viewed by others, which we did by reading the British newspapers (the Guardian has always been a favorite of mine), and what it’s like to be in a culture where there are more farmer’s markets than supermarkets.
I also noticed the beauty of their windmills and how they discourage people from driving cars. (An hour on their toll road costs $20 and three-quarters of a tank of diesel fuel for our mini-van cost $90 while a 3-hour express train ride about the distance from Washington DC to New York cost less than $40.) Food is served slowly. Almost all stores close from 1pm to 4pm. Tips seem deeply appreciated, and most newsstands seemed to have at least 5 to 7 local papers.
Arriving back at JFK airport in New York City last night was a shock to the senses even for someone who was born in New York. I missed the visual pleasure of being surrounded by a more thoughtfully designed architectual landscape, the slower pace, the absence of chain stores and getting into a 20 year-old Mercedes taxi!